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Rutte's prospects of forming new Dutch government wane as coalition partner quits

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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s (pictured) prospects of forming a new government have waned as a possible coalition partner seen as vital for securing a parliamentary majority ruled out joining a new administration led by him, writes Bart H. Meijer.

The decision threw into further disarray already stalled talks about forming a new government, setting the discussions back by weeks if not months and making it virtually impossible to predict the outcome.

Rutte, 54, narrowly survived a no-confidence vote on Friday after parliament passed a motion disapproving of his actions during government formation talks following last month’s election.

But ChristenUnie leader Gert Jan Segers, in an interview with newspaper Nederlands Dagblad, said: “We don’t want to return to ‘business as usual’. We cannot be part of a fourth Rutte government”.

ChristenUnie has been one of four parties in the government led by Rutte’s conservative VVD party since 2017.

As all the parties outside his coalition voted to have him removed immediately on Friday, his current partners seemed the only viable option for Rutte to form his fourth consecutive government - until Segers’ move on Saturday blocked that path.

But Rutte said he was not about to give up his efforts. “I am still willing to put up a fight”, he told reporters. “I am convinced we can always reach a comprise in this country.”

The VVD said it had no intention of replacing him as party leader.

MOTION OF DISAPPROVAL

Parliament will next week appoint an independent official tasked with mapping out ways to get the government formation process moving again.

But the two parties seen as indispensable for the VVD, the Christian Democrats and pro-EU D66, filed the motion of disapproval on Friday and made it clear it would be very hard for Rutte to return to the negotiating table.

Rutte, who has been in office since 2010, was the winner in national elections two weeks ago but still needs a coalition partner or partners to form a majority government.

“Without support of the ChristenUnie a fourth Rutte Cabinet seems unthinkable”, political scientist Tom Louwerse said on Twitter. “The best scenario might be for Rutte to not be involved in the formation of a new government, but stay on as caretaker prime minister until there is a new administration.”

It was unclear how a government without Rutte would look, as given the election result his VVD party will be needed for any stable majority.

The VVD might still opt to put forward a candidate other than Rutte to lead a new administration, although if there is no resolution new elections may be called.

Over a decade in power, Rutte navigated a range of political minefields, finding the middle ground in a fractured parliament. His handling of the coronavirus pandemic was widely seen as the main reason for his election victory last month.

Yet an opinion poll published after the no-confidence vote debate showed his support among the general public had declined to 25%, from 54% a week earlier.

Holland

Dutch election: PM Mark Rutte claims victory and fourth term

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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte's (pictured) party has won the most seats in parliamentary elections, projections show, writes the BBC.

Victory hands Rutte a mandate to form a new coalition government led by his centre-right VVD party, with a fourth term as prime minister.

His last government resigned in January over a child welfare fraud scandal.

While his party was set to win 35 out of 150 seats, the centre-left D66 was the other big winner of the night with 24 seats.

Geert Wilders' far-right party was projected to win 17 seats, while two other right-wing populist parties did well too.

Left-wing parties fared poorly, and the centre-right Christian CDA also lost seats.

Turnout was high, at 82.6%.

"The voters of the Netherlands have given my party an overwhelming vote of confidence," Mr Rutte told reporters in parliament.

He conceded that "not everything has gone well in the last 10 years" but said the main challenge was to rebuild the country after the Covid-19 pandemic.

"I have the energy for another 10 years," he said. The two parties that currently form a caretaker coalition with his liberal VVD are likely partners in a new government, but the support of the liberal D66 and the CDA are not enough to form a majority.

After finding out that D66 was predicted to have the second-highest number of seats, party leader Sigrid Kaag jumped on the table with happiness. "What a wonderful evening," she tweeted. "Now let's get to work, the future won't wait."

View original tweet on Twitter

She told reporters voters were ready for "the optimism and vision" of her party. "This evening it's been confirmed that the Dutch are not extremists, but are moderate. People appreciate positivity."

Geert Wilders, head of the PVV, said he had "hoped for more than 17 seats" but pledged that his party's "counter-voice" would be heard from the opposition. Another far-right party, Forum for Democracy, was set to have eight seats, despite an anti-Semitism row in the run-up to the vote.

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coronavirus

Dutch vote in election dominated by COVID-19

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Three days of voting began in the Netherlands on Monday (15 March) in a parliamentary election seen as a referendum on the Dutch government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, writes Anthony Deutsch.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte (pictured), one of Europe’s longest-serving leaders, is widely expected to gain enough support to secure a fourth term.

Four polls released this week showed Rutte’s conservative VVD taking 21-26% of the vote, compared with 11-16% for its closest rival, Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam Freedom Party, which leads the parliamentary opposition.

With a ban on public gatherings, the election campaign focused on a series of televised debates in which Rutte maintained his image as a steady hand during a time of crisis.

But coronavirus infections in the Netherlands are rising at the fastest pace in months, and the National Institute for Health (RIVM) has advised against any swift easing out of lockdown, saying that hospitals could still be overwhelmed in a third wave of the pandemic driven by more contagious variants.

On Sunday, police broke up a demonstration by thousands of people in The Hague to protest against the lockdown and curfew, the imposition of which prompted several days of riots in January.

Roughly 13 million voters are eligible to pick from dozens of parties contesting spots in the 150-seat parliament. Voting booths open at 0630 GMT and the first exit poll is expected when they close at 2000 GMT on Wednesday.

Major parties including Labour, the Green-Left and the pro-education Democrats-66 are vying with the centre-right Christian Democrats for third place. Two or three of these will likely join a new VVD-led coalition.

With a ban on gatherings of more than two people, restaurants and bars shut and the first night-time curfew since World War Two, voting has been spread over three days to help ensure social distancing at polling stations.

An exception on the 9 p.m. curfew will be made for people out casting their ballots.

People who are in groups considered more vulnerable to COVID-19 are encouraged to vote on Monday and Tuesday. Voters older than 70 were also able to vote earlier this month by mail.

Rutte, 54, has been Dutch prime minister since 2010.

Although the Netherlands slipped up in its response to COVID-19, being the last country in the European Union to start vaccinating and flip-flopping over face masks, hospitals never ran out of beds through two COVID-19 infection peaks.

Reporting by Anthony Deutsch

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EU

Samskip launches direct container services between Amsterdam and Ireland

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Samskip has ramped up its shortsea container connections between Ireland and North Continental Europe by introducing a new dedicated service link into Amsterdam. The weekly connection will mean Irish imports can avoid post-Brexit hassles applying to goods received via UK-based distributors, while exports will benefit from greater reach into EU markets in the northern Netherlands, Germany and beyond.

Launching on 25 January, the fixed day service departs from the TMA Terminal Amsterdam on Monday evenings for arrival in Dublin on Wednesday and a weekend return to Amsterdam. This complements Samskip’s existing Rotterdam-Ireland shortsea services by offering rail, barge and road customers in the Netherlands a new Monday night departure to Ireland.

Thijs Goumans, Head of Ireland Trade, Samskip, said that the service launch came at a time when importers and exporters in Ireland-mainland Europe trades continue to weigh up options as the consequences of Brexit for supply chain management became clear.

“The Ireland-North Continent freight market is in a dynamic phase, and fixed day container services to/from Amsterdam provide the certainty on which supply chain managers serving the Dutch and German markets can base business growth,” he said. Subject to initial moves, Samskip would consider calls to connect other ports in Ireland to Amsterdam direct.

“Shortsea container services can once more prove themselves more than a match for ro-ro, particularly for products previously shipped to distributors in the UK then redistributed across the Irish Sea,” said Richard Archer, Regional Director, Samskip Multimodal. “Amsterdam is a high-performance port connecting straight into the hinterland area and the entire Samskip Ireland team is delighted by this new commitment to pan-European transport.”

Koen Overtoom, CEO Port of Amsterdam, commented: “We are very pleased with this expansion of the port’s short sea network. It underlines the strength of the services Samskip and TMA Logistics offer, as well as our strategic position. Ireland is a key market, and in these rapidly changing times a direct link presents tremendous opportunities. We will continue to work with TMA, Samskip and international partners to make this service a lasting success.”

Michael van Toledo, General Manager TMA Amsterdam, said Samskip’s rail links to Duisburg and TMA’s congestion-free road access offered a platform for growth in FMCG volumes into Ireland and pharma and dairy exports moving the other way. “The service could have been custom-made for our ambitions to grow Amsterdam as a hub for shortsea container business,” he said. “It targets the greater appetite for direct North Continent services to Ireland post-Brexit, with TMA’s cross-docking winning over trailer operators in markets further south.”

 

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